In the last eight months my family has been unlucky enough to have three truly awful restaurant meals. That’s probably about one third of all the meals out which we have had in that time.
These meals were all either treats or necessities. One was a lunch on a long motorway journey, one was a meal out on holiday and the third was a family celebration. We’re not made of money; our children are secondary school age and don’t normally order from the kids menu, so the cost is significant.
It makes me realise how brave my restaurant reviewing blogger friends are, to be ready to be critical if necessary. I’ve been invited to review one bar and one restaurant this year. It’s not something I set out to do regularly before now. Thankfully it went really well.
A restaurant reviewer would normally be invited for a complementary meal by the venue. It’s hard to be negative when you are grateful for free food. If it had gone badly, then I would have to tell my followers. If I was an established restaurant reviewer, this would stand up better and be convincing as part of my whole website. But I have only two reviews as a blogger under my belt, so if they were bad reviews, it could look like whingeing and moaning. Whether it’s a glowing or negative review, inexperience has less credibility. I suppose that is stating the obvious but the situation is a bit unfair as we all have to start somewhere.
Honesty is the best policy, and repeated experience gives us the backbone to act on our honest opinions.
It’s the repeated experience of bad family meals which has changed me as a customer in recent months. I hate confrontation and complaining as much as the next British person.
The Portishead Chain Pub
The first disaster was a new-build chain pub just off the motorway in Portishead. We chose it in an attempt to avoid eating at the motorway services. Some chips were not cooked, some food was cold, the fish was like rubber, and the table was sticky. My goodness the front of house manager was horrible. He repeatedly refused to put toilet roll in the ladies.
It was so bad that I felt a one-star TripAdvisor review was not going to cut it. I resolved to write to the Chief Executive. I didn’t, though. Life is busy and I just forgot about it. I also forgot the name of the pub and lost the receipt which didn’t help.
The Melksham New Restaurant
The next experience was another new-build pub near Melksham in Wiltshire, kitted out to look like the Wild West. Two of us ordered a steak pie, which turned out to be one of those tiny Frey Bentos individual pies that are the size of cupcakes. The peas were completely uncooked. For dessert with the chocolate fondue they served a black and smelly banana. The waitress was prompt and apologetic but she kept bring out disaster after disaster from the kitchens. We sent a few things back and for our pains she offered us 10% off the bill.
This was a turning point for me. I could not believe our bad luck for the second time and I thought we richly deserved our 10% discount, if not more.
The Farm Shop
A few weekends ago we had a little family celebration and went for Sunday lunch to a large farm shop on the edge of town. I adore this farm shop and have eaten there many times, usually mid-week. It is a trailblazing local business supporting Yorkshire producers. I buy from their butcher, often.
Service was quick and our roasts arrived hot and ample. The meat was lovely but then I tried the other things on my plate, and I just wonder if someone in that kitchen had tripped and thrown salt everywhere. The beans, mangetout and gravy were all so salty that my children gave up trying to eat more than half a plateful. The Yorkshire pudding had salt in the bottom. My husband and I ate most of our food, and then half the kids plates, but it was beyond what the children could cope with and they ate little. We drank a lot of water.
At the end I went to pay at the till. I told them how bad it was. The girl apologised and told me the price. For the first time ever I said “do you want me to pay all that?” She got the hint and went to get the manager.
We had a very quick conversation and the manager didn’t make it hard. She immediately commented that such salty food is not safe for children and knocked off 15%. Also she promised to talk to the kitchen about it and I told her that reassured me. She said she hoped we were not put off returning. On reflection I think my children will not go back there.
If you’re reading this thinking “I’d happily complain, I did it only last week” then yes, I admit I am a late developer. It turns out that complaining in restaurants is not as hard as I expected. I think with the Portishead one I would have had my work cut out due to the selective deafness of the staff – but I’ve lost my fear. Sadly bad food no longer surprises me and that is a real shame.
Have you ever asked for your restaurant bill to be reduced?
I haven’t named the restaurants because I’ve forgotten the name of two and it wouldn’t be fair on the other to name it alone.
NB my previous restaurant and bar reviews were complementary and were published on my facebook and instagram rather than this website.